Reading: Green Grapes by Yuk-Sa Lee

Yi Yuksa (1904-1944) was a well-known Korean poet and independence activist. As one of Korea’s most famous poets, he and his works symbolize the spirit of the Korean anti-Japanese resistance of the 1930s and 1940s. The pseudonym he used, (이육사) also means 264, the prisoner number assigned to him. His real name was 이원록, Lee WonRok. I encountered his poetry on the glass pane that separates the platform from the subway tracks in Seoul, and decided to read it here.

Green Grapes
My hometown in July
When green grapes are being ripened

The hometown legends told in heavy clusters
And the sky far away comes into grain by grain dreaming

The blue ocean under the sky opens wide its breast
That a white sailboat may come in beautifully drifted

My dear guest whom I long for, even in his weary body
Wearing green outfit will come, he said.

So when I greeted him to share freshly plucked grapes
I’d gladly have my both hands get dripping wet.

My dear child, upon the silver plate on our table
Be sure to set white linen napkins

Let’s read this poem naively. I have no idea upon the circumstances of oppression under which it was written. I read about green grapes, used to make sweet wine in Korea and delicious real wine in Europe. I see the dreamy sky and the blue ocean opening its wide breast and we are all sky children nurtured by the wideness of our thought.

The guest with the green outfit must be a soldier freeing Korea from the commies. Let’s share grapes with him! It is a very special occassion, so the silver plate must be with dressed with white linen. Blue, white and green are the colors in this poem. I think of the flag of Sierra Leone, a country that was once war-torn but is doing relatively well now.

Here is the Korean original:


– 이육사

내 고장 칠월은
청포도가 익어 가는 시절.

이 마을 전설이 주저리주저리 열리고
먼 데 하늘이 꿈꾸며 알알이 들어와 박혀,

하늘 밑 푸른 바다가 가슴을 열고
흰 돛 단 배가 곱게 밀려서 오면,

내가 바라는 손님은 고달픈 몸으로
청포(靑袍)를 입고 찾아온다고 했으니,

내 그를 맞아 이 포도를 따 먹으면
두 손은 함뿍 적셔도 좋으련,

아이야, 우리 식탁엔 은쟁반에
하이얀 모시 수건을 마련해 두렴.

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